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2018 F1

2018 Canadian Grand Prix: Free Practice Analysis

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Spread across the Ile Notre-Dame in the St. Lawrence River, the picturesque Circuit Gilles Villeneuve can throw up quite a few challenges for both teams and drivers. The temperatures being one of the lowest on the calendar means different tyre management techniques and a power sensitive characteristic overall means a lot of upgrades brought here by the engine suppliers.

Both the free practice sessions today were interrupted by red flags, brought out by Renault drivers Nico Hulkenberg in FP1 and Carlos Sainz in FP2. However the driver at the top of the time-sheets of both sessions was Max Verstappen. The Red Bulls looked strong in the sprint runs while the Mercedes looked good when it came to their race trim mode.

Speaking of upgrades and aero updates, there were a few changes noticed on the grid. As far as engine upgrades go, barring Mercedes all three suppliers Ferrari, Renault and Honda brought their engine upgrades to this power hungry track. With Renault one can see the difference maybe on the McLaren and Red Bull, both seem to be competitively quick around this circuit.

As far as aerodynamic development is concerned Ferrari had some revised bargeboards, while McLaren featured their triple nostril design nose. The Woking based squad featured the unique nose in Barcelona but did not risk running it in Monaco; however one could see the difference in performance of both their cars in Canada.

While FP1 is only the first yawn of the day when it comes to performance, a title favorites Ferrari were seen building their momentum towards FP2, after an average start to the day. However, the highlights of FP1 were the McLaren’s who looked fairly competitive in qualifying trims on the hyper soft tyres. Along with the orange outfit were their Renault powered counterparts Red Bull Racing who seemed to be most comfortable with the pink tyre, as seen in Monaco. The only team to not run the pink striped compound in both sessions, have been Mercedes who have brought only five sets of the tyre to this circuit, the least compared to the rest of the grid.

In the sprint runs in FP2 Red Bull Racing again looked strong with Verstappen as fastest and Daniel Ricciardo finished the session as the third fastest driver replicating the morning result. Sandwiched between the two blue cars was Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen who was second fastest and was seen carrying out most of Ferraris qualifying and race trim simulations. The Finn complete a total of 41 laps and was the busiest man on the circuit, which is more than half of the race distance.

Ricciardo had to sit out for most of the session, due to electrical issues with his power unit and went out during the last 30 minutes of the session, in last ditch effort at getting mileage on his car. Similarly Sebastian Vettel too had the least mileage on his car due to a problem that arose from FP1, where he touched the wall and had to change the front suspension.

While the hyper soft tyre seems to suit the Red Bull Racing cars and the Ferraris, one will only know how good the Mercedes are on the same compound, when they run it in the FP3 session before qualifying. Nevertheless, the Silver Arrows team did manage similar times on harder compounds such as the supersoft and ultrasoft tyres.

The only surprise tomorrow can be if the Ferraris use their upgraded power unit, and it ends up being a bazooka. In terms of long run pace, Mercedes looked the most competitive on the supersoft and ultrasoft tyre, where their average is the the fastest in race trims. As far as Vettel and Ricciardo go, although one can get a rough idea of Vettel’s average best over four laps, calculating Ricciardo’s average best was impossible due to his short stint. The Australian did not complete enough of laps to be able to calculate an average, and his stint was a mix of qualifying and race simulations within the last 25 minutes of the session.

Here’s a chart of the average times of the top three team drivers on various compounds used through the second half of the FP2 session:

Driver Hypersoft Ultrasoft Supersoft
Max Verstappen 1:16.688s (7 laps) NA 1:16.311s (4 laps)
Kimi Raikkonen 1:16.257s (4 laps) 1:16.675s (7 laps) NA
Lewis Hamilton NA 1:16.282s (8 laps) 1:15.651s (3 laps)
Valtteri Bottas NA 1:16.881s (6 laps) 1:15.944s (6 laps)
Sebastian Vettel 1:16.464s (4 laps) NA NA
Daniel Ricciardo NA NA NA

One cannot discount the Ferraris in FP3 or qualifying, since their normal routine is to have an average Friday, send the data for simulation to the headquarters in Maranello, and by Saturday they are normally at the top or second fastest. As far as the current two sessions were concerned one would place them somewhere between the Mercedes and Ferrari in terms of long run pace. And in terms of qualifying, one of the two Ferraris should be in contention for pole.

The obvious contenders for pole positions would likely be Verstappen, Hamilton and Vettel, but the fight between the top six will be closer than expected. As far as the mid-field goes, McLaren could be leading the pack, at least in the qualifying session. While Renault have had a troubled Friday, it is difficult to place them in the pecking order with their current times, however Haas could have a surprise in store if they get they manage to repeat their FP2 performance.

Since the inception of the hybrid era, Mercedes has claimed pole position at this Canadian circuit, while Lewis Hamilton has claimed six pole positions here in his whole career. It will be interesting see if Silver Arrows continue their winning streak and extend their lead over Ferrari, or their record is broken and winning streak is paused at their favourite circuit.

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